In his own words: Damon Hill on ‘phenomenal’ Lewis Hamilton

Lewis Hamilton was at the Autosport Awards when I became the world champion in 1996, so I have been aware of him for a long time.

He came into Formula One very highly-rated, very talented, and the first black driver in the sport.

He started winning straight away and nearly took the title in his first full season.

Damon Hill knows what it takes to make the top
Damon Hill knows what it takes to make the top (PA)

He was in the doldrums for a while at McLaren, but he made a blinding move to Mercedes, and you cannot put his ensuing success down to luck.

He is an unbelievable racer, and this year he is set to achieve his sixth world title almost at a sub-optimal level. He hasn’t had to sweat too much.

There have been races where he has had to pull something out of the hat, but it seems as though he can go to his locker and there is more in reserve.

He is at the height of his powers. He has got the experience, he has got the knowledge, and he has the comfort of having five world titles already. It is almost too easy for him.

Lewis Hamilton celebrates winning this year's British Grand Prix by jumping into the crowd.
Lewis Hamilton celebrates winning this year’s British Grand Prix by jumping into the crowd (Martin Rickett/PA Images).

Winning his sixth championship will take him to within one of Michael Schumacher’s record haul. Lewis shares his emotions, but Michael was very guarded – you never knew how he was feeling.

They both have an extraordinary seat-of-the-pants ability which make them almost supernatural. Lewis wants to win fair and square. That is to his credit.

I cannot think of one occasion where he did something spiteful or underhand. Ayrton Senna could use his car as a weapon, but Lewis would never adopt that strategy.

Lewis’ future is all a matter of motivation. He has a lot of interests away from Formula One, but if you said to him in five years when he is 39, ‘do you want to drive a world championship-winning car?’, I would be surprised if he turned it down.

That said, something has got to keep him interested, and I don’t know whether doing the same thing again and again with Mercedes will be enough.

He might be interested in a move to Ferrari, but he is also probably content with his legacy at Mercedes, and why would he want to damage that?

Monaco Grand Prix – Qualifying Day – Circuit de Monte Carlo
Damon Hill questions why Lewis Hamilton would want to damage his Mercedes legacy by moving to a rival team.

Lewis wouldn’t want to battle it out against a young team-mate, like Charles Leclerc or Max Verstappen. I am not sure he would want that pressure.

I can see why some people are not wholly convinced by Lewis, but he should be given the benefit of the doubt.

This is a guy who has been a star from birth. He has been in a very unusual situation in that he was picked up by McLaren when he was very young and was destined for stardom. He has lived in the Formula One bubble his whole life and it is not an easy place to find your bearings. He has struggled with that, but he has matured massively.

He is kind-hearted and generous, but for some, he is not what they want to see from a sportsman. Sometimes his comments are not well selected but, like Lewis said, we are all human.

Lewis is enormously proud that he has become an ambassador for anyone who thinks they can’t reach the top because of the colour of their skin. Lewis has had to deal with that, and I have no idea what that must have been like. We can’t just gloss over that.

Breaking new ground for equality in a white-dominated sport is his crowning achievement. He has proven to himself, and to everyone else, that the colour of his skin should be no barrier.

Lewis is knocking on that door of being the best ever in terms of victories, and championships, and his career needs to be recognised.

The level of his achievements are extraordinary, phenomenal.

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